A white political protest banner with blue lettering is being held at a religious discrimination street rally

Words by Izzy Hamer and Maggie Leung

What is the Bill about?

The Religious Discrimination Bill was introduced by the Morrison’s government aiming to reflect and improve existing discrimination regulations in 2021. The proposal allowed rejections from medical staff for religious reasons and was criticised for  discriminating queer students at school. The move has then attracted roars from the LGBTQA+ community and the attention of international humanitarian organisations.

Dead but not gone?

Following debate in Parliament on Thursday the 10th of February, amendments were made within the controversial Religious Discrimination Bill to better protect LGBTIQA+ students. The amendments raised in the debate included removing rights which allow religious schools to act against queer students and an anti-vilification provision. However, that does not mean the bill’s path is anywhere close to over within the near future. The Religious Discrimination Bill as proposed by the Government, was created with the intended purpose of prohibiting “discrimination on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity in a range of areas of public life” (Parliament of Australia, 2022).

The bill has amassed an outcry over its subsequent human rights implications for LGBTQIA+ individuals. As amended by the labor and crossbench, removing section 38 (3) of the Sex Discrimination Act, would have enabled religious schools to allow discrimination based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, and parents’ marital status or a pregnancy outside of the religious doctrines. As affirmed by Amnesty International and various human rights NGOs, the amendment made to the bill alone will not ensure the protection of rights of all LGBTQIA+ children, workers, and in particular, teachers at religious schools.

The Bill has still passed through the House of Representatives, and future action in current times is largely unclear – and notably, both labor and liberal crossed the bench upon the voting of the bill. The next step of the Bill remains uncertain and has vast possibilities; others suggest that changes and reforms can be made by the Government beyond the Bill, so the fight does not end.

Whilst it is uncertain if the bill will even proceed to the senate, so the current Government can avoid a loss altogether, it is unlikely that the bill will be debated before the next election. It was pulled from debate on Thursday the 10th February – the last day the Senate is sitting before budget week at the end of March. The Government pulled it from the agenda on Thursday morning, filing a motion that the bill would not be exempt from a debate cut-off with the Government consulting legal advice from the Australian Government Solicitor on that grounds that the amendments made by the opposition and crossbench could bring further discrimination related to sex or intersex status.

From the guardian:

Liberal senator Andrew Bragg on Friday, stated that he opposed the statement of belief clause, and wanted more protection for LGBTQ+ students and teachers. Bragg could cross the floor to achieve these amendments. If Bragg crossed, the finely-balanced Senate numbers could get to 39-37 against the government, if Labor and the Greens team up with Rex Patrick, Jacqui Lambie and Stirling Griff – meaning non-government amendments could get through the Senate too.

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